I continue to be impressed with how YouTube is evolving from an upstart UGC site, reviled by major media companies for its nonchalant approach to copyright, into a video platform with unmatched audience reach that can be leveraged in myriad useful ways. A great example is how YouTube is attempting to channel some of its users' recreational interest in video creation into more purposeful, and valuable, initiatives for 3rd party partners and brands. I wrote about the concept of "purpose-driven" user-generated content over a year ago and also recently cited YouTube's brand engagement contests.
Now, with "YouTube Direct," the company's latest initiative, unveiled earlier this week, news-oriented web sites can embed YouTube's upload functionality directly into their sites, giving them the ability to request videos directly from their audience members. YouTube Direct also gives the news organization a moderation panel so videos can be approved or rejected. For videos that are posted there's a link back to the organization's own site.
It's no secret that newsroom budgets have been under huge pressure, so the opportunity to access free video reporting should resonate with any organization seeking to bolster its coverage. There are different ways a news site can use YouTube Direct ranging from the CNN iReport model which invites users to upload whenever they see news happening to a more targeted approach of asking for video coverage of a certain event (e.g. a high-school football game or local election coverage) to soliciting video responses to news-of-the-day questions. In short, "citizen journalism" can have a lot of different flavors. YouTube Direct is already being used by NPR, Politico, ABC News, The Washington Post and others.
YouTube Direct capitalizes on the growing trend of consumers carrying pocket video recording devices. Whether a smartphone like the iPhone or Droid, a video camera like the Flip, or just a digital camera with video capability, more and more people are ready to shoot at a moment's notice. The prevalence of video devices is set to grow dramatically as smartphones proliferate.
The key to success is having a platform that's easy for news organizations to manage and for users to access. With tens of millions of individual user accounts, more and more devices that offer one touch "YouTube" uploading, and news organizations hungry for inexpensive video coverage, YouTube Direct has a lot going for it. What would make it even stronger would be ad insertion capability, more extensive video editing functions and integration with the news organization's social media applications. I expect all of these features will come over time.
YouTube Direct is another smart move by the company to change mainstream media's perception of it from foe to friend. Combined with Content ID, which allows media companies to manage and monetize user-uploaded videos, and the trial with FreeWheel to allow premium partners to sell their own ads, plus other initiatives, YouTube is well on the road to repositioning itself. From an outside observer's standpoint, the moves don't necessarily feel methodical or as well-communicated as part of a larger strategy, but they are producing dividends. This week's YouTube deal with Univision for full-length programs, which would have been unheard of not that long ago, is just the latest evidence.
With its share of all views continuing to hover around 40% and its monthly streams now exceeding 10 billion, YouTube has enormous reach to capitalize on. Figuring out how to tap its users' energies for the benefit of premium partners and brands should be a key objective.
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